Bishop Emeritus of Moroto Diocese, Henry Apaloryamam Ssentongo, died last Wednesday evening at Nsambya Hospital in Kampala. He was 83.
The Masaka Diocesan deputy communications director, Fr Charles Ssekyewa, revealed that Bishop Ssentongo had retired and was living in a residential house at Bikira Catholic Parish since 2014.
“He had a very painful back and he was undergoing treatment,” Fr Ssekyewa told Saturday Monitor.
“This meant periodic trips from Bikira which is near Kyotera Town to Nsambya Hospital in Kampala to get treatment. A few months ago as his condition became more complicated he relocated to Moroto House, which is close to Nsambya Hospital for easier access to his doctors. Unfortunately we have lost him,” he said.
According to Fr Ssekyewa, Bishop Ssentongo has been living example of humility and simplicity.
“He lived a simple life and I never saw him drive a luxurious car. The Prado four-wheel-drive car in which he travelled, I think originally belonged to the late Bishop Paul Kalanda and this was mainly because he had a chronic backache. He was our rector at Bukalasa Seminary, but we all admired him for his simplicity and humility,” he said.
When this writer visited him at Bikira in January 2017, the Emeritus Bishop of Moroto Diocese had been waiting for him for just a few minutes when a househelp announced his arrival.
“You are so good at keeping time,” he said as he welcomed him in a large living room of what he was later told had been the living quarters of the White sisters that ran Bikira Dispensary.
Daily Monitor had sent the reporter over to interview him about his life.
One of the first questions was how he acquired the Karimojong name of Apaloryamam.
“It is the name [Apaloryamam] that I was given by my friends; the people of Moroto Diocese where I went to serve as bishop in 1992,” he explained then.
“I do cherish that name and I have formally adopted it.
It does appear on my passport and my other identification documents.”
“Apaloryamam refers to a cow with horns bending towards each other and it symbolises friendship, love, and togetherness.”
The prelate said then that he was grateful to his brother Bishop John Baptist Kaggwa, then bishop of Masaka Diocese, for providing and rehabilitating the building before handing it over to him as his resting place upon retirement.
“I am here not as a bishop but as an old man undergoing recuperation. However, I remain a priest and it is the reason that despite my painful backbone I recently began visiting sub-parishes under Bikira Parish on Sundays celebrating Mass and preaching. I do the activities under the coordination of the parish priest here. Then once in a while I must travel to Kampala for medical treatment and to attend to a few meetings.”
Fr Joseph Kato, the assistant diocesan secretary who lived with the deceased in his last years at Bikira Parish, described him as a prayerful person.
Even in retirement Bishop Ssentongo still held some responsibilities. He was a member of the board of trustees of the Joint Medical Store and member of the board of directors of Pax Insurance Company Ltd, Kampala.
In an earlier interview, Bishop Ssentongo said his decision to join the seminary was influenced by a number of factors.
He was born on November 30, 1936, at Kisaawa Village, in Kalungu District a few kilometres from both Bukalasa Minor Seminary and Katigondo Major Seminary where he would often see well-dressed young men aspiring to become Catholic priests.
“Not far from our home, is Kasabbaale Hill, which served as a holiday resort for the seminarians from Bukalasa. As children, we admired them very much and we were greatly impressed by their kindness and good behaviour,” he said.
“We were also allowed to attend Sunday services at their chapel and whenever we returned home we would imitate the priest saying Mass as we played. It was then that I made up my mind to become a Catholic priest,” he added.
“I must, however, also mention, the late Fr Clement Kiggundu, former editor of Munno newspaper who was brutally killed by soldiers in Idi Amin’s government. Someone with a knack for writing should research on him and write about his life.”
“He also used to talk to me about becoming a priest. My parents too, the late John Lukwago and Maria Nakibuuka, who were staunch Catholics, were also very supportive. They were coffee farmers and they always paid my school fees promptly,” he said then.
Asked why training of a Catholic priest takes so many years when most of the time the priest will be preaching and working among people of moderate educational levels, the late Bishop Ssentongo said: “It is a requirement of the Church that all Catholic priests must be educated up to the highest level of the country in which they serve. Today, we have university graduates among the people to whom we preach and who come to us for guidance. The priest should, therefore, be of similar if not higher educational standard.”
He had no kind words for some Catholic priests defying the authority of their bishops and others failing to observe their celibacy vows.
“There is need for more involvement of the Christian community in the training and preparation of the priests,” he said.
“It must not be only the responsibility of the seminary to judge which young man deserves to become a priest. The Christian community from which he comes should be given more chance to give their views about the suitability of the aspirant.”
Asked why these days most Catholic priests do not wear the cassock or the clerical shirt, Bishop Ssentongo blamed this on excessive secularism eating up the Catholic community .
“It is a dangerous trend that should be addressed. Someone saying that for him to be a priest is more important than the clothes he wears and that spreading the word of God has little to do with what one wears. People should be able to easily identify a priest by the way he dresses.”
“I am also aware of others refusing to obey their bishop’s orders and others pursue material wealth. Priests should be trained and prepared to live simple lives.”
About the mushrooming Pentecostal churches that have attracted thousands of followers, Bishop Ssentongo said the real issue lies with people trusting whoever promises them quick solutions to their personal problems even when obviously this is not possible.
“The Pentecostal preachers promise good health and miraculous healing of incurable illnesses. They promise sudden wealth and good jobs. Often they also offer material support like money because they are well funded. They claim to have a solution to nearly all problems and it is easy for many people to believe their tricks.”
Besides his priestly duties, Bishop Ssentongo had a number of special responsibilities in his long life.
He has been chairperson of the management committee of St Theresa Primary School, Bwanda, Masaka, chairperson of Board of Governors of Nkozi Teacher Training College, chairperson of board of girectors of Kulika Charitable Trust Uganda, and a member, board of Trustees of the Verona Fathers Congregation in Uganda.
He is also one of the founders of Centenary Rural Development Bank Ltd and Uganda Martyrs University, Nkozi.
Those who used to visit him at Bikira got an impression of a cheerful person that lived a truly busy life of service above self.
About Bishop Ssentongo
Education:Bishop Ssentongo went to Kalungu Primary School and Villa Maria Primary School before joining Bukalasa Minor Seminary.
He later went to Katigondo Major Seminary where he spent only one-and-half years before he was offered a scholarship to join Urban University in Rome in October 1957.
It was at Urban University where he continued his priestly education until he was ordained on December 21, 1963. He pursued further studies in Switzerland and Germany and he held a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, a Master’s Degree in Theology, and a Master’s Degree in Law. He spoke Germany, English, and Italian besides his native Luganda.
He returned to Uganda in 1969 and was appointed curater at Matale Parish in Masaka Diocese before being appointed Private Secretary to the Vatican Ambassador (Apostolic Nuncio) to Uganda. Between 1976 and 1980 Bishop Ssentongo was Rector of Bukalasa Seminary.
From 1981 to 1988 he served as secretary general of the Uganda Episcopal Conference.
He was ordained Auxiliary Bishop of Masaka Diocese on March 18, 1989 where he served up to 1992 when he was appointed Bishop of Moroto Diocese, a position he held up to his retirement in 2014.
Most of the priests with whom he was in the seminary are dead. By the time this writer visited him only two were still alive; the Rev Fr Francis Sales Muwonge then serving at Matale Parish in Masaka Diocese and the Rev Fr Joseph Ssegujja serving in Kampala Diocese.
His contemporaries at Katigondo Seminary that have passed on are Fr Joseph Kavuma, Fr Deogratias Bukenya, Fr Francis Mugambe, and Fr Celestine Kateregga.
According to a statement released on Thursday by the Secretary General, Uganda Episcopal Conference, Mgr John B Kauta, there will be a Requiem Mass at Bishop Ddungu Gardens, Nsambya on Sunday and the prelate will be laid to rest at 2pm on Monday at Bukalasa Minor Seminary Cemetery.